By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half
ADRIAN – Adrian Lenawee Christian gave a whole new meaning to Sweet 16 last week.
The Cougars and their roster of 16 strong won their biggest game in program history Friday, beating the No. 1 team in last week’s Associated Press Division 8 poll – Pittsford – to clinch a playoff berth and share of the Southern Central Athletic Association title.
It was the first time Lenawee Christian won a conference title and the first time the Cougars have qualified for the playoffs in back-to-back years.
“It was a big night,” Lenawee Christian head coach Bill Wilharms said. “It was senior night, parent’s night and our last (regular-season) home game. I’m just so excited for the kids. They’ve worked so hard. There were only 16 of them Friday, but they came to play.”
Lenawee Christian never trailed, although the game was tied briefly in the third quarter. The Cougars put up more than 400 yards of total offense against previously unbeaten Pittsford and a defense that had recorded two shutouts and allowed just five touchdowns all season.
Adam Baker, the Cougars’ starting quarterback, was sensational, throwing for 317 yards and two touchdowns, rushing for the game’s opening touchdown and picking up a team-best 70 yards on the ground. What was even more impressive, Wilharms said, was his junior signal-caller’s calling of the plays at the line of scrimmage.
“There were a couple of times where the play would happen, and I’d think to myself, ‘Okay, that was a good play. I don’t know what it was or where it came from, but, hey, it worked.’”
Baker said there were times when he got to the line of scrimmage and saw something different from the defense that warranted an audible.
“When I got to the line of scrimmage, if I saw something, I would just motion to my receivers or tell my line what to do,” Baker said. “I would signal something and change the play.”
It’s a credit to Wilharms and his staff that an experienced quarterback like Baker can make those adjustments on the fly.
“I think Coach has a lot of trust in our team to recognize the things that are happening out on the field,” Baker said. “He trusts us.”
Wilharms said Baker studies film and knows what he is doing.
“We’ve got a lot of things built into our run-pass option offense,” he said. “There are a lot of wrinkles. Adam does a great job of reading the defense. He made some fabulous reads. He went to his second or third option several times. It shows that he is a third-year quarterback.”
On the season, Baker has completed 95 of his 150 passing attempts for 1,289 yards and 17 touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 391 yards. One of his rushing attempts in particular ignited the LCS players and fans Friday night.
“We ran a sweep and Baker lowered his shoulder and got a few extra yards,” Wilharms said. “Plays like that are big for a football team.”
Lenawee Christians runs the spread offense with multiple looks and a deep crew of receivers. In the Pittsford game alone, Baker connected with seven receivers. Some teams go a full season without seven different players catching a pass.
“We’re trying to do some different things out of the spread,” Wilharms said. “As long as our line can give Baker time in the pocket, we can really sling it.”
The line that Baker operated behind Friday did a great job, especially considering senior Jack Leisenring, the team’s biggest player, was out with an injury.
“We have a sophomore that is about 210 and one of our freshman lineman is about 145,” Wilharms said. “The younger kids have really stepped up on the line. We try to do things to take advantage of their quickness because they don’t have a lot of size. Our kids came to play against Pittsford, who is a tough, physical team. They knew they were going to get hit, but they took it on.”
The SCAA has just four teams – Pittsford, Climax-Scotts, Athens and LCS. Climax-Scotts has committed to 8-player football next year while LCS was undecided until this month, when it informed the other SCAA schools it will maintain an 11-player team in 2019. The middle school and junior varsity Cougars already play 8-player, but Wilharms said he believes the numbers will support an 11-player team at least one more season.
“We only have three seniors and a big junior class,” he said. “If we keep who we have, we should be okay. Scheduling might be tough. We will probably have to hit the road to find teams.”
But no one is thinking about next year yet. Lenawee Christian is among the top-five ranked teams in Division 8, and the Cougars could land the first home playoff game in school history. They will travel tonight to play at Blanchard Montabella, and the Oct. 19 game against Detroit Universal Academy will go into the books as a forfeit win. The Cougars have never won a playoff game.
Baker said the team got excited after its win Friday, but he and his teammates know they still have work to do.
“I mean, sure we beat the No. 1-ranked team in the state, but there is always room for improvement,” he said. “You can always get better. That’s what we did when we went back to practice on Monday, just worked and worked to try and get better for this week.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Lenawee Christian quarterback Adam Baker follows his blocker during last week’s win over Pittsford. (Middle) Cougars coach Bill Wilharms checks out his play chart. (Photos by Stacy Kline.)
Kingsley football fans have become pretty familiar with VIP parking for home games over the last couple of seasons.
They may just start looking for a Kingsley VIP lot at Ford Field. The Stags just captured the MHSAA Division 6 championship trophy with a 38-24 victory over Almont, their second Finals championship and first since 2005.
The road to the Finals started with Kingsley hosting two playoff games, allowing great use of the VIP Parking of Trina’s Touchdown Club. The lot is adjacent to the school’s Rodes Field and provided in loving memory of Katrina “Trina” Kay Schueller, who passed away Oct. 21, 2021, at Munson Medical Center.
Those playoff games filling Trina’s Touchdown Club’s parking lot featured wins over Mason County Central 61-12 and Manistee 37-18, and 51-27 over Gladstone in the Regional Final. Kingsley then traveled down the road and defeated Reed City 37-7 in the Semifinal.
There may not have been designated VIP parking in Cadillac and Ford Field for the Stags’ followers, but there were a lot of VIPs at both stadiums with Schueller on their minds. Pretty much everyone with an affiliation with the highly-successful program or familiarity with the community’s struggles have become VIPs to the Kingsley coaching staff and many others.
Most certainly among the VIPs are head coach Tim Wooer, assistant coach Conner Schueller, his brother Carter Schueller, and his father Mike Schueller.
Conner was set to play the biggest regular-season game of his career the day after his mom passed. It was the regular-season finale against rival Traverse City St. Francis.
Wooer vividly remembers the moments leading up to that matchup, noting how difficult it was for Conner. But his then-fullback and now-assistant coach demonstrated amazing strength and maturity he stills exhibits today.
“He’s in his senior football season, and his mom is in the hospital for four weeks — he’s balancing that playing football and going to school,” Wooer recalled. “And then she passes, and he has the strength to come back to school and deliver the news to our team.
“I am sobbing watching this kid, and I’m just amazed,” Wooer continued. “The next night is Parents Night, and he’s on the field with his dad and brother without his mom.”
Conner still played, making a 4th-down goal line tackle to prevent a St. Francis touchdown. The Gladiators won the game, but Conner won the day, conquering much just to dress for the game.
The Stags went on to playoff wins over Kingsford 28-10 and Clare 32-6. They bowed out with a 33-18 Regional loss to Frankenmuth.
Conner’s junior year of 2020 had been cut short as the Kingsley was forced to forfeit its District Final to Reed City because several players and coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. The Stags had Ford Field in their minds that season too after playoff wins over 38-13 Standish-Sterling 38-13 and Gladwin 63-16.
Conner, who celebrated his 20th birthday at Saturday’s Final, remembers his playing days and the challenges presented him.
“At the time it was ‘she’s not there,’ especially my senior year she wasn’t there to watch me and finish it out, but I know she’s watching above,” he said. “We were about to go play Reed City my junior year for Regionals, and everyone got sick and it ended our season unfortunately.”
Those challenges were on his mind at Ford Field, and running through his mind when he saw his brother and father in the stands. Carter, now a senior at Kingsley, had been unable to play football due to injuries.
“I thought about my brother – he unfortunately didn’t play this year due to his injuries, and I don’t really blame him for that,” Conner said. “I thought about him as well because it was just me and my dad and my brother now.
“It was very emotional,” Conner continued. “I got a glimpse of him in the strands.”
Carter also was filled with gratitude for the coaching staff for welcoming and mentoring him. He had become keenly aware of the amount of time coaches spend away from family at practices and going through film.
In addition to his family, Conner was thinking about many others in the Kingsley community – and other senior classes like his that didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship.
He also was thinking about Justin Hansen, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley. Hansen was a captain on the 2002 conference championship team. He went on to become a special-operations Marine sergeant and was killed in action July 24, 2012, while deployed in Afghanistan. Hansen was on patrol as part of an operation in search of a high-value target when his team was hit with small arms fire.
On Saturday, Wooer was wearing a red T-shirt with the letters “USA” on the front and the name “Hansen” on the back. It also featured the number 54, Hansen’s in high school.
Wooer, who turned 54 in July, wore the shirt in Hansen’s memory knowing Hansen would be on the veteran coach’s mind and symbolizing Hansen’s presence with the team at Ford Field.
Wooer wants to make sure Hanson is never forgotten and reminds the soldier’s family the entire community remains behind them.
“I believe it is part of our job as a community to show our love to this family and help in any way possible to help them get through this process,” Wooers said. “After the funeral, we all went about life.
“We certainly still think about Justin and feel the pain,” he continued. “But nothing like a family does.”
Hansen’s tragic passing led to the creation of the annual Patriot Game in Traverse City in 2012 while Wooer was coaching Traverse City West. The game features crosstown rivals West and Traverse City Central every year and strives to honor veterans, first responders, active duty military, and area heroes who died while serving their country.
Saturday’s win over Almont left Wooer emotionally exhausted after all the preparations to do it right for the senior class, the school, the Kingsley community, the Schueller family and Hansen. Collectively, they’ve really become more like a family to the Stags coaching staff and many, many others.
“In terms of emotions, there is no doubt Justin was on my mind throughout the game,” Wooer said. “Trina and Conner have been – those are two huge pieces.
“And, a lot of my thoughts are with the seniors,” he continued. “You want to win the game, but also it is your last time with them.”
Wooer has learned a lot from his former players and coaches over the years. He’s become close friends with many of them, going back to his early days of coaching as a student-teacher at Elk Rapids. He also coached at Farewell and Traverse City West, the latter from 2008-2017 after a first tenure at Kingsley. He returned to Kingsley in 2018.
Schueller is among several former players and coaches who have been on Wooer’s coaching staffs over the years. Several continue today.
“I could give you lots of other stories about kids I have had,” Wooer said. “There comes this transition where they turn into such amazing men, you catch yourself every once in a while saying, ‘I want to be like him.’
“You get this huge smile on your face because you’re so proud of them, just like a mother or father would,” Wooer continued. “A coach always looks at his players like they’re part of his family.”
In addition to Conner, current assistants with long-term relationships with Wooer are Tom Kaleita, Kyle Smith, Ryan Zenner, Dan Goethals, Josh Merchant, Jordan Bradford, Steve Klinge, Connor Schueller, Mike Arlt, Larry Mikowski, Bobby Howell, Rob Whims and Jason Morrow.
This year’s seniors were Jon Pearson, Eli Graves, Skylar Workman, Gavyn Merchant, Max Goethals, Evan Trafford, Bode Bielas, Grant Kolbusz, James Person, Caleb Bott, Trenton Peacock, Noah Scribner and Gavin Dear. They and the coaching staff will be the center of attention as the community celebrates the football team at 7 p.m. this evening in the high school gymnasium.
The seniors probably won’t need VIP parking tonight. But if it would help, Conner would surely make arrangements to utilize Trina’s Touchdown Club. He’d have to add a shuttle though as Rodes Field is about a mile away from the school.
“It feels amazing — I don’t think it really hit any one yet, but I am sure it will,” Conner said. “After we won, it is truly something – it is something else I can’t explain.
“The seniors finally won it the way they were supposed to,” he continued. “It was a good class of seniors.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Kingsley students support their classmates during Saturday’s Division 6 Final at Ford Field. (2) Stags assistant coach Conner Schueller watches from the sideline during an Almont run back. (3) Kingsley coach Tim Wooer, in red, prepares to present the championship trophy to his team including Schueller, far right. (4) Trina’s Touchdown Club welcomes members to the VIP lot adjacent to the Kingsley stadium. (Ford Field photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos; touchdown club photo courtesy of the Kingsley football program.)